Analytical Tools for Identifying Better Paths Toward Sustainable Nanotechnology

M.E. Bates, I. Linkov, Z.A. Collier
US Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Environmental Lab, US

Keywords: sustainable nanotechnology, decision analysis, life cycle, value of information


Sustainable nanotechnology requires a broad, comprehensive approach to product and process design that anticipates relevant factors related to production scale-up, environmental fate and transport, human health concerns, manufacturing costs, and other factors acting across nanomaterial life-cycle stages. Consideration of these factors should result in preemptive engineering and novel materials that overcome anticipated corporate, regulatory, stakeholder, and public objections. Three analytic approaches that have yet to be sufficiently integrated can provide a powerful approach to better connect sustainable nanomanufacturing with industry, stakeholder, and general public needs: Value of Information (VoI) analysis, Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA is an analytic approach to study the systemic environmental consequences of human activities, incorporating impacts (and benefits) farther “upstream” and “downstream” of traditional assessments. VoI explores the sensitivity of decisions made under uncertainty by estimating the potential decision-impact of new information that could be obtained prior to making a selection, and MCDA allows robust and transparent comparison and analysis of decision alternatives that are not reducible to a single criterion (as in cost-benefit analysis). This talk presents illustrative applications of these tools to prioritize nanomaterial research and select nanomanufacturing strategies for more sustainable outcomes.